Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traditional Bhutanese Toilet Habits

The oldest form of toilets in Bhutan were in strange ways comparable to the most advance toilets today because they didn't need to be flushed, they never got blocked, and at the end human waste wasn't a problem. The typical traditional toilet hung from the first floor with a wide opening, and poop dropped one floor straight down losing all its smell in the wind before it landed. On the ground pigs would wipe clean everything as if there never existed a toilet, except for the sticks and stones that were used for wiping (May be our forefathers reused those). Remember not a single drop of fresh water was wasted. In fact some families fought with pigs to save the poop for producing manure.

Traditional Toilet 
Unfortunately, in 90s our toilets changed suddenly and people were obliged to shut their traditional toilets. People found it disgusting to see their own poop centimetres below in the pot, and smell filling up the air tight chamber, worse they couldn't understand the logic behind wasting huge amount of fresh water to wash their waste.

So old habits die hard; they still feel the pigs would eat after they leave and therefore forget to flush (or intentionally save water), and they smuggle in sticks and stones to wipe their hard butts, which land up choking the new toilets.
A typical public toilet 

The fastest way to solve our toilet usage crisis is to bring back our tradition auto system toilet or wait till the last generation of traditional toilet user die. Well that's what most educated experts think when we discuss toilet but that assumption seemed to have caused most of the modern toilet problems in Bhutan.

The assumption is that our people don't know how to use toilet well, therefore our toilets will be dirty, which made our intelligent engineers come up with a solution even before the problem emerged. The solution was to hide the toilet from public places, so that it doesn't become an eye sore in the unforeseen future. Smart solution, because not many people found them and therefore every open space became toilet for our people, and some people who managed to discover the hidden toilet found it very safe to misuse the facility because there is no one around to watch, while others reach there at the end of their wit and let go wherever they could manage to lower their pants.

It's hard to find the starting point of our problem loop- is it because our toilet are hidden that caused the problem or is it because our people don't know how to use toilets therefore it's hidden? Anyway, it's time to break the loop and dare to test our people- present them with clean toilets with adequate water supply at a reachable distance and see if our people are so evil.

During the 18 days Public Toilet Facelifting event by Bhutan Toilet Organization across the country we found out that toilets that are within populated areas are still in use and in better condition, whereas the ones that are tactfully hidden from public eyes are not only blocked and dirty but also destroyed (See the pictures).

Details report from all Dzongkhags will be shared soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I Pledge to Live Like The Great Fourth

Of course how could we help not making the celebration so grand for the king as great as His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck whose vision for the country and compassion for his people are only comparable to the god himself. But when I see so much of sound and fury of lavish dedications to the king who always chose quieter and humbler life I wonder if what we are doing is even agreeable to the great one. 

As much as I know of the Great Fourth, he would not approve of the extravagant show we are putting up in his name, some of which are so petty that even an average person gets goose bumps. How can we attach the name of the noble celebration on every little thing we do? How can we be so wasteful in the name of the king who has always been so judicious?

He would rather want the drains cleared and streets cleaned at all times; He would wish the potholes be filled and gardens watered beyond November; He would want us to build monuments that are useful to people after the celebration;

He would wish parents to spend time with their children and children care for their aged parents everyday; he would want us to do our jobs well without excuses and be incorruptible; He would wish us to be humble and helpful to people around us; He would want us be simple and satisfied in life; He would want us to do meaningful things that would last beyond the celebration and add value to people’s life.

If we could pledge to be as genuine as the Great Fourth himself, as humble, as sensible, as just, and as dedicated then we are giving the legendary king the best birthday gift ever. And that I pledge to thee, Your Majesty. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Public Toilet Lovers in Bhutan

This November 19, on the World Toilet Day, Bhutan Toilet Organization will be celebrating its first anniversary. So far in our first year of existence we have enjoyed huge support from concerned citizens and we have been able to make people talk about toilets, if nothing. We have done an online campaign Let's Make Toilet a Better Place and on the ground we have transformed the public toilet in Paro into one exemplary toilet in the country, where different groups of people came together to address the issue.

On our journey we also met some people who were experts on the issue and who also knew that it's impossible to change toilets in Bhutan, but we are very naive and would like to believe that we can change. We want to form the largest network of responsible citizens to assist government and local authorities build and maintain toilets.

So are we have about 160 members from across the country and abroad, forming a network of toilet lovers. And our first big assignment is to make every public toilet in the country clean and open to public by 19th November. So far in our assessment we found out that the public toilets across the country share similar fate; they are broken, blocked, and neglected. Therefore, our members are already briefed and they are working on their unique plan to address the issues. On 19th November we will share stories of how our members have transformed public toilets in their regions.

We are not just looking at one time cleaning campaign, our members will work with communities and local authorities to find a sustainable solution to maintaining the toilets after our event. We will continue to monitor the toilets hereafter and provide feedback to the authorities.

This year World Toilet Organization asked us to join their global event called The Urgent Run and we have registered this event with them, because transforming our public toilets is an urgency in Bhutan. We also received approval from the Health Ministry and appreciation from the Health Minister himself. But without any financial support so far our members will have to improvise and fund the event through their own local initiatives.

Following are few pictures of Public Toilets in our Country:



If you wish to Join us as a member, Register below:

Singing Legend in Bhutan

Bhutan's singing legend Yeshi Wangchuk was at the GNH conference in Paro last week. I know this is not even a news. He was singing those songs we heard on radio as a child, but not on the stage, rather near the refreshment tent when the guests passed by to sip their tea. It was painful to see our legend sing like a gypsy in the open to entertain the guests.

Worse was in the evening, when he had to sing as the guests were enjoying their dinner. He went on till the last person left the buffet, by then even random visitors like us finished eating. He and his musicians were the last to eat. I know he must have been paid for his service but personally I felt very bad.

I know it wouldn't make a difference but I walked up to him and requested a pictures together just to let the foreigners around know that he's an important person. But even if nobody noticed I felt better after seeing him happily pose with me.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Bloggers Conference in Paro

The Second Bloggers Conference held in Paro College on 25th October 2015 was a huge milestone for the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers. We were able to bring the event to a magnificent campus, get a notable sponsor and draw a decent crowd.

Venue: Paro College of Education
Sponsor: National Airlines Drukair
Supporters: iBest Institute and Bank of Bhutan
Speakers: Karma Choden, Dorji Wangchuk, Nima Dorji and me
Format: 15 minutes speech with presentation followed by 10 minutes Q&A for each speaker
The event took a special place in my heart because it happened in Paro, my home ground for the first time. Every other event, formal and casual, related to bloggers had happened away from me in the past and I had to travel the longest. This time everyone travelled except me. We had bloggers attending from Wangdue, Trongsa, Tsirang and of course mostly from Thimphu.

I was given to talk on Social Media. I got excited because it was something I use each day more than the restroom. It was my cup of tea but when I sat down to write my 15 minutes speech I realized my cup of tea had no bottom. It was like the black hole and still growing.  

Then I decided to confess my ignorance about the depth of the subject and talk about how an ordinary person could use it each day to enrich our lives and things around us.

But I didn’t surrender easily because even the unknown could be defined as unknown, so I gave a brief background on the ever growing power of social media.

“A few years ago, only privileged individuals on TV and Radio could talk to thousands of people at a time, and people who wrote in newspapers were read by thousands, as a teacher I had the privilege of speaking to an assembly of over 700 students once every two month when I was the teacher on duty (TOD) but other than that our usual conversations were between two persons or a small group.
 Today, in the age of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and of course blogging each one of us is as privileged as a newspaper journalist or a TV anchor. Any minute we can take out our phone and write something that will be read anywhere in the world by the time we get out of this hall.
 There is a new dimension to social media that wasn’t there in mainstream media, which is the ability for your audience to respond to you and share your content among their friends. This new dimension works like nuclear power, thus making it the most powerful form of media.
 Social Media gives ordinary persons like you and me the means to influence the world from our toilet seat using a mobile device that can be held in one hand and operated with a thumb. Social Media has given each one of us the power that we don’t fully understand yet. This world will be a great place if this power was given selectively to all the good people but the bad news is it is given to everybody. “

I categorized people on earth into four groups, because as is on social media we are no more divided by geographical boundaries:
  1. The Users, people who use social media as tools to do good
  2. The Abusers, people who abuse social media as weapons to cause harm
  3. The Clueless, People who don’t know what they are doing on social media and therefore become the victim.
  4. The offliners, People who are not on social media.

I then described myself as a user who has thus far made the best out of social media. I told stories of my blog, my Groups and Pages on Facebook that are geared toward enriching our social lives and spreading positive energy and I fondly talked about Bhutan Toilet Organization that began on Facebook.

The speaker before me, Ms. Karma Choden spoke about Leadership of Self, the foundation of which was the words of his majesty the king;

“What we need is not a Leader to lead the Masses – we need Leadership of the Self.”
“How does Leadership of the Self – being better human beings – translate to a better world? “
“No one should be left behind. This we must achieve without waiting for some great leader or genius who may or may not ever emerge – we should instead seek to do so, each of us, on our own.”

And when I spoke of social media as power in our hands I could easily relate the leadership of self as the guiding principle each time we deicide to hit the post button.

The third speaker Mr. Nima Dorji, a lawyer and blogger, spoke on the thin line that exist between the Right to Reputation and Right to Freedom of Speech -that is the law on defamation. This topic was something everyone on social media must know at this time and age, because we really must know how far to push our freedom of speech into other’s right to reputation.

The final presenter Mr. Dorji Wangchuk, a senior journalist, blogger, professor and activist, talked about his model of journalism—The Middle Path Journalism. He boldly declared that our media is directionless at the moment. The journalist trained in different parts of the world imported the models and therefore even in one media house we could see various forms of voices. He took us down the historical journey of development of media in different parts of the world including Bhutan and shared with us how media in each region were shaped by history; by colonialism, civil war, the world wars, the cold war, the industrial revolution, etc. He then asked which country’s model would work for Bhutan, the country with entirely different history and values. Following is what he shared about varying values and I think this is a food for thought for the media fraternity, and for the blogger community.

Ê Western Values = rights, justice, equality, liberty, freedom
Ê Western Civilization = Individual
Ê Eastern Civilization = collective
Ê Bhutanese Values = tha damtsi (Commitments), tsam tsay (Contentment), maang and Za Saang (Community/Family), Nyinzhay (Compassion/Empathy), Lay Jumdray (Cause/Effect)   

Hon’ble Sangay Khandu, MP in National Council from Gasa moderated the conference and he was someone who could add value to every talk. More than anything I hold the highest regard for the man for being there in every little event, no matter how far, and spent his valuable time with us, and at times even paying for our lunch (lol).
At Drugyel Dzong!

To make the event even more memorable we headed to Drukgyel Dzong in the afternoon and spend quality time talking about life and history, until it became so cold and dark. Except for a few Paro College students and me the rest of them had to travel back to Thimphu and as we parted we decided that between this and the next conference in 2016 we should have an Annual Dinner in Thimphu. All the members of CBB are invited. It shall be after December 17.

At Drugyel Dzong, with our invention- The lamp!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Currency Symbol of Bhutan

In 2011, I wrote a short piece on our currency, titled Ngultrum Identity, wherein I have said that the existing symbol of our currency Ngultrum (དངུལ་ཀྲམ་) which is kept as ‘Nu’ could not be taken as our currency symbol because it could be written only in English.

Four years have passed since, but my article can be read like it was written this morning because no development has taken place. We still don’t have a symbol for Ngultrum in a real sense, though it has the ISO 4217 code since its appearance in 1974 that is BTN.

It’s fairly ok to use abbreviation like Nu in countries where English is the national language but for us we have Dzongkha, which we are proud of and using an English abbreviation seems like disregarding our own language. For that matter using a Dzongkha word can also be inconvenient as much of our written works are done in English.

Therefore, it is a conventional requirement for an independent state to have a graphical symbol to denote its national currency. It may seem like a small thing but it’s a status symbol of a nation. It’s like any other symbol that defines our identity as a nation state. It’s not something we should be taking for granted. We should not be so complacent to live with an easy Nu.

Ever since my first article on the subject I have been on a personal mission to create a symbol myself. I have played around with traditional signs, combined letters in Dzongkha, crossbred letters in Dzongkha with English and explored Ranjana script but the more I tried the more complicated my symbols became. I then realized how complex it was to create simple thing.

It was after a long gap that I resumed my mission and recently I found something I was satisfied with. I am sharing it here hoping to find people who could refine it and make it creditable enough to be submitted for consideration to The Royal Monetary Authority. And I found out that for a currency symbol to be implemented it requires the adoption of new Unicode and type formats, which means a computer geeks could help too.
Ngultrum Symbol 
I have taken the 'ངུ' from between 'དངུལ' and changed the direction of the tail a little bit to give it a sense of completeness. 

Inspiration: India got its currency symbol ₹ through an open competition in 2010. The designer D. Udaya Kumar used a combination of Devanagari letter “” (ra) and the Latin capital letter “R”.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Stepfather

(Good people in my life-II)

“Does your stepfather treat you well?”
“You should hit him on the head when he is asleep.”
“Why don’t you go and live with your ani?”

Some people in my village diligently let me know that the man in my family was not my father, and that he would treat me bad. I was only over three years old to understand anything but they made me into a suspicious little boy. It was their usual rustic way of having fun; teaching me all the tricks to challenge my stepfather.
I would happily report to them, “He is scared of me.” Because my stepfather wouldn’t hurt a fly I really thought he was rather scared of me. I wish they had taught something good, or just nothing at all, so I would have thought he was my father or at least as someone who wouldn’t hurt me. I regret having never called him apa. I didn’t even call him aku. I would call him by his name until I was much older.

His real name was Phub Tshewang, which only our grandmother fancied, rest called him Aatsho. A serious infection in his childhood had left him limping. He was a natural introvert who mostly had nothing to say. But he had another dimension to him though which he was capable of expressing himself; he was a man of many skills.

He was homeschooled by his tyrant father who taught him religious scriptures, tailoring, carpentry, and the art of making torma. This set of skills made him one of the most sort-after persons in the village. Perhaps he must have been the only person in the village with such versatility, a man who was useful across all seasons.

Though his earnings kept us well fed in the village, we have had difficult times meeting my school expenses when I grew up enough to need a pair of leather shoes and sports shoes simultaneously. In village we all wore those greenish Chinese canvas shoes, which came for Nu.120, but he understood I couldn’t take those to school. One evening he returned from the town with a pair of sport shoes for me worth Nu.700. It broke my heart, because that was a lot of money in the village and I knew how hard he toiled to save so much, but those were the moment that helped me become a responsible youth. I gingerly wore the shoes for many years.

When I reached high school he started communicated with me more, more than to anybody in his entire life. One evening when he didn’t return from woods, we were so worried at home. We had even planned to go searching for him if only we knew which direction he went to because he wouldn’t tell anyone. He didn’t need company. After dark when he finally returned appearing so casual and took his place near the fire, my mother shouted at him for not informing us about the late arrival. He gave a few words explanation. After she went to bed he quietly called him and showed me his leg. He was in extreme pain. His axe slipped of a log and hit his already limping leg and left a deep gaping wound. He lost much blood. Though freaked out, I carefully nursed his wound and put him to bed and he told to keep it between us. Since then there were lots of things that were kept between just the two of us.

When I had my first girlfriend I showed him her picture and told him everything about her but he laughed at the picture and told me she looked like a sick horse because she was thin and fair. He rather had another girl on his mind for me, a huge wrestler like girl in the neighbourhood. I laughed at his choice too. We were gradually beginning to understand each other.

But he never let me or my brothers touch his tools. He didn’t pass down any of his arts to us. He never wanted us to learn his arts and live his life. He always told us that life would be easier if we rather went to school and used books as our tools. All three sons in the family grew without any of his skills, but his bigger plan worked. We all completed our schooling.

When I was in college first year he came to meet me with some stuff my mother had sent. He had sent a boy to call me behind the college building, thinking I would be embarrassed if he came limping in front of my friends. His shyness and being a loner must have been because of his disability. But I couldn’t be bothered; I took him around and show him my college. I saw pride beaming in his eyes as he scanned the Dzong-like structure of my college.

One of the first things I was going to do after I began earning was to take my stepfather for treatment and give him the comfort of walking without having to limp and wear any kind of shoes. But just one year short of my graduation he passed away. He must have suffered for a long time but he never disclosed it to my mother, if only I was around he would have told me and I would have taken him to hospital on time. He rather went to his mother’s place and died peacefully. More than ten years have passed since but I still couldn’t fully overcome his death. I live the regrets that he never truly knew how I felt about him, I had only begun to open up with him and he left. 

A few years after his death I became a stepfather myself and that’s when I found a new purpose in life and that’s when I found him again in my stepson. Over the years I realised that the best thing my stepfather taught me was the delicate art of being a good stepfather. Jigme was a much better stepson than I had ever been; he knew I was his stepfather yet called me dad. Our affection flowed naturally; stepson to stepson.

Some good people never cease to love you and guide you, not even after their death. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Surprise Gift from my Wife

My wife Kezang said she had a surprise gift for my birthday last June. Now that was a surprise in itself. It got be nervous because she wasn’t known for any kind of surprises, in fact she hated surprises.

I assumed she was going to do something romantic for once. If she woke me up on my birthday and gave me a flower then I would be surprised because that was the last thing she would do. She’s very romance shy woman, who thinks what happens in movies and books should remain there.

Anyway, my birthday came and went uneventfully, as usual, without any surprise whatsoever. I didn’t show any obvious sign of disappointment but deep down I was upset that she forgot her surprise gift. Few days passed and when she never mentioned about it I had to bring it up.

Me: Where is your ‘surprise gift’?
Kezang: I already gave you, you didn’t notice?
Me: No, is it kind of invisible?
Kezang: Sort of, it was something visible that became invisible.
Me: Come on, just say you forgot it.
Kezang: No, I gifted you your wife’s health!
Me: What do you mean?
Kezang: I quit smoking since your birthday!

Kezang has been smoking even before we met. In between she quit once for three years, from the time she was expecting our daughter till she stopped breastfeeding. But such was a smoker’s urge, only few days after she stopped breastfeeding she just restarted smoking. In three years her urge didn’t die. Those three years were the biggest sacrifice the mother in her had done for her child.
I tried everything I could to make her quit but she just couldn’t. I had blackmailed her, scared her, sweet-talked her, read articles, share inspiring pictures, showed YouTube videos, and even bought substitutes like nicotine chewing gums. She would agree to every word I said but she just couldn’t give up.

I told her that we had to grow old together and see our children grow. I even reminded her of how her skin rejuvenated and glowed when she stopped smoking for three years. I always told her that she was committing a gradual suicide and planning to leave us alone helplessly.

I couldn’t imagine a life without her and she was smoking her life away slowly each day. Soon I began to feel that if it was so much part of her I mustn’t take it away from her, though both of us knew we would have a wonderful life without smoking. She was fighting her own losing battle against it.

But just when I felt so hopeless my unromantic wife gifting me the most romantic gift ever. She has made her choice before it’s late, when the time is right, where there is still enough strength left in our age to rebuild our health. It’s been four months since she quit and now she tells me that her urge is gone completely.

It was indeed the biggest surprise gift ever and I wish this happened to all the couples that are so much in love and have the longing to grow old together. 


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